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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

in Eureka, all the children are above average

[spoilers!]

(previous Eureka blogging here and here)

Eat your heart out, Garrison Keillor: In the little town of Eureka, all the children really are above average. It struck me while watching last night’s episode of the Sci Fi Channel original series that the last three installments have been, in some way or another, about the town’s children, the special trials of being a really smart kid, and the adults who love them… sometimes all three things at once.
The show has always been partly about Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) and his contentious relationship with his teenaged daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson), but in “The Games People Play,” which aired on July 31, his anxiety over losing her to her mother’s custody came to a head. Yeah, it was kind of the standard “stuck in the holodeck” episode, with Jack caught in the VR therapy device Zoe was using, but how the virtual Eureka of the device boiled Jack’s world down to nothing but him and his daughter served as an excellent metaphor for the particular closeness and stress of the parent/child bond.

In the next episode, “Duck Duck Goose,” which aired on August 7, we discovered just how good living Eureka has been for Zoe. The running joke about IQs and IQ tests served to show us, in the end, that Zoe is a helluva lot smarter than we may have thought — maybe even than she believed herself — and suggests that her juvenile-delinquent past may have been merely a result of a lack of the right challenges to channel her energy. The rest of the science fair story, too, gave us extremely intelligent kids giving in to pressure to succeed at any cost and showed us how the adults that these supersmart kids become sometimes end up living in the shadow of their younger selves.

“Noche de Suenos,” last night’s episode, brought us back to Global Dynamics head Allison Blake (Salli Richardson) and her relationship with her autistic son, Kevin (Meshach Peters). She’s so desperate to communicate and connect with the profoundly disconnected (at least from nonautistic humans) child that she sends the entire town into an uproar, if inadvertently, when the device she uses to share dreams with Kevin has unexpected side effects. At the same time, we learn that Kevin’s “relationship” with or understanding of the strange Artifact may be deeper and stronger than we’ve previously realized.

As I think more about these last three episodes, one word keeps coming to mind: gentle. That’s not a word that typically gets applied to science fiction — geeky things are usually harder-edged, more cynical. But it’s making me like this show the more I see it and the more I ponder it. Science fiction is always about exploring what it means to be human, and I like that this show is doing that in way that’s much sweeter (without ever descending into insipidness or sentimentality) than most science fiction ever achieves… or even tries to achieve.

JACK’S FRIED BRAIN WATCH: Okay, I’ve got no doubt that Henry’s (Joe Morton) erasing of Jack’s memory is gonna come home to roost before this season is over. Already it’s a running thread, as in last night’s episode, when Henry’s dream of that event stuck with Jack more than a dream might be expected to, almost as if Jack has some residual memory of the memories that have been erased. And I knew for a certainty in “The Games People Play” that Jack was not running around in the “real” world but was stuck in his own head. Here’s why: When Jack was talking to Henry about what could be causing the strange phenomenon Jack is witnessing — people seeming to disappear, and Jack seemingly the only person with memories of those disappeared people — I had no doubt that this was all purely Jack’s invention. Because if it weren’t, a shadow of worry would have crossed Henry’s face: Could Henry’s scrambling of Jack’s brain be the cause of this weirdness in Jack’s perception? But Jack doesn’t know what Henry did, so he couldn’t have filled in that as a potential reaction from Henry. If this had been the “real” world, though, the writers could not have ignored that kind of reaction from Henry, and would have had to include it. The show’s too smart not to have done so.

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